Wednesday, August 3, 2016

On a Personal, Omnipotent God

In December of 2004 the Indian Ocean experienced a traumatic and historic tsunamis caused by an earthquake.  This world event struck me really hard.  It was compounded that I had been having dreams about drowning in ocean waves for weeks.

I wondered "why did this have to happen?"  I realized the answer was there is no reason and there is no omnipotent force behind the weather.  There is nothing to learn from such disasters (unless we are not doing proper disaster planning on personal and governmental levels). 

Then July 5th, 2005 I woke up from nightmares again at about 5 in the morning.  This was still photographic images of bobbies and caution tape and people crying.  I then went to the spare bedroom to check my email and that exact image was the first image on my Comcast news feed.

I then started doing a lot of soul searching and dealing with Cassandra Syndrome.  What was the purpose of these dreams?  Was I supposed to be calling government officials to be warning them?  No.  That couldn't be why I was having the dreams.  I would never get through to the people that needed to hear the message and would be put on some sort of watch list or, most likely, be ignored as crazy.  I came to the conclusion, with the help of my teachers, that I was just open and picking up on wavelengths of the world.  I decided to make a pact with myself not to have prophetic dreams about anything I can't control.  It worked.  When Katrina hit that August, my connection to it was through the insurance industry and not through my dreams.

That still left me with dealing with a world that didn't seem to have any divine oversight.  From this my conception of God changed.  Until that time, I felt that God was watching over me and had an invested interest in me personally.  That was one of the Christian assumptions I had not questioned.  After those devastating tragedies, I decided that while there seems to be some sort of mathematical order to the universe and laws both physical and beyond our perceptual capacities, there is not a higher order being that is looking out for us based on our priorities.  A God that keeps black holes doing what they do doesn't care about my heartbreak or whether I live or die.  I am insignificant.

This is the similar thinking of when I get ant traps, flea medicine for the cat, or fly traps for the kitchen.  When I eat things they die-- plants or animals.  We make choices and some of those choices are tragic for others such as the ant, flea, or fly colonies I don't want infesting my home.

One of my mother's favorite songs, that we played at her funeral was one that I heard her sing solos of several times at church.  It's "His Eye is on the Sparrow," and the words go, "his eye is on the sparrow, so I know he watches me."

I think this is one of the fallacies that made me mad at an unfair, or uncaring God.  I am glad I had already crossed this bridge because it seems just as unfair to attend my 93 year old maternal grandmother's funeral and my 68 year old mother's funeral in the same year.  Why did a woman who tried to be a health nut, who was strong, and mentally capable get incurable, terminal cancer, discovered at Stage IV?  There is no reason for this.  It just is.  There is no "everything happens for a reason," or lesson to be learned.

This idea is also freeing.  It has freed me from thinking that I must always comply, that I must always try to please people.  This kind of thinking is codependent first of all, but also takes away autonomy and personal power.  Furthermore, it shift blame away from personal responsibility.  If you do what you're told, whether it be from your parents, spouse, or church, you never have to question if it is right.  That assumption spreads to not questioning the zeitgeist, or "way of the times" of popular culture.  These questions pushed me to a harder, albeit more satisfying way of self-reflection and self-examination.  It also gives one greater responsibility to speak out when something is wrong, no matter how unpopular.  I came across an idea a couple years ago that while this may not be the path of the greatest, happiness, it is one, for me, of the greatest satisfaction.  The adage basically said that you can choose whether you want an interesting life or a happy one.

 Maslow had a lot of thoughts on this.  He felt that people who were self-actualizing did not depend solely on laws or cultural values to find a moral compass, but had to listen to their own sense of morality in order to benefit society.  Self-actualization isn't easy, but it's an admiral goal to strive for.

It is these types of ideals that give me meaning, rather than adherence to lines from bible camp songs that allow me to shirk responsibility.  "Jesus loves me," (but he'd love me more if I was male and not bi, queer, what-have-you).  The implication is that if I am of Jesus's chosen people, then he loves me and I am good.  (Let's not even add to this by mentioning that if I am one of Abraham's "sons" then why don't I keep passover? Didn't understand that at all as a 6 year old).  I can ask for forgiveness of my sins and it is washed away with communion wine.  Yeah, not a world I can live with.  I live in a world where nobody is "good" or "bad".  There is no we and them.  We exist in kindness, love, compassion, limited perspective, errors, and frailty.  We strive for ourselves, our families, our ideals.  We kill microbes, bugs, food, each other, and ourselves.  We lash out and say cruel things.  Such things can have lasting consequences.  Cause and effect, action (or inaction) and consequences-- that is the world I live in.  We are all in this together, whether we can admit that or not.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Depression as a Symptom, not a Disease

I think one of the things that made my journey out of depression really difficult was that no one seemed to understand what had happened or why.  The focus seemed to be on my mental disease.  This was one thing my ex really pushed, so much so that in our marital therapy, our therapist outright had to tell my ex that I was not ill and did not have a disease.

I have done a tremendous amount of soul searching, therapy, and research since then.  I have a much broader vocabulary for expressing what I felt at the time and where it all came from.

One of the things that contributed to my decompensation was that I started reaching out to people for help.  When I did that, I was put on probation with my husband and everyone I knew and interacted with on a regular basis was told not to contact me.  I lost my entire support system and became trapped in what felt like a jail cell with the very person I was trying to get away from.

Much of what I was feeling in depression was terminal aloneness.  In this link, Lilly Hope Lucario describes perfectly the terrible loneliness I had been chronically experiencing then and after.

Another piece of it was that I felt like I was living in a war zone.  I was completely stressed out and couldn't cope.  The three cup theory perfectly illustrates what that felt like.  Stress, anxiety, and depression were symptoms.  SSRI's masked those symptoms and sedated me.  However, the meds were not fixing the problem.  In fact, if I hadn't been on medication, I would have left  4 or 5 months before I actually did.

I did learn in that 5 month period between losing trust and coming close to a nervous breakdown and actually leaving was how to stop enabling.  With the help of my therapist, we started setting boundaries, communicating my needs, and extracting myself from behaviors that enabled.  The more independence I gained, the more bizarre monitoring behavior looked.  The more I asked for positive support, the more heinous and demeaning the criticisms looked.  I began to see that as his control over me failed, the lashing out, lies, and disrespect got more characterized.

Learning not to bail anyone else out, make excuses for their inappropriate behavior, and trying not to make up for someone else's behavior has been in the mix of what I've learned.  It's difficult to unlearn bad habits that have seemed normal in all the environments I've lived in.  I'm getting better at self-reflection, self regulation and monitoring, and withdrawing from others antisocial behavior.  Part of that is about not letting the bad behavior of others reflect on your self worth.  That was a biggy for me, but I decided that people don't judge me based on what someone in my world is doing, unless I'm contributing.  The other side of that is you shouldn't be associated with someone who regularly acts like an immature, conniving bully.

So, here I am at 34, learning how to be an adult.  I am trying to be more discerning about who I associate with.  My best friends are empathetic, understanding, thoughtful, good listeners, compassionate, and open-minded.  They are all big-hearted and want to learn how to be more productive, successful, and happy members of society.  We are all learning together.  I'm going to delve much further into enabling in my future posts.  It is insidious and an easy trap to fall into.  The hard effort to chose alternative behavior is well worth it though.